Swedish euro vote has harsh lessons for a distracted Blair

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Swedes were never given much of a reason for voting to adopt the euro and, so long as the issue remained one of the élite against the ordinary people, the Yes cause seemed unlikely to prevail. The patronising assumption that people might change their minds because of the appalling murder of an attractive politician rather than because of the arguments has been confounded.

The Swedish vote undoubtedly has important implications for Britain, however much the more idealistic euro supporters might try to brush it off. This is not really a matter of the herd instinct. It will not make much difference to most Britons that they are less alone in the European Union than they otherwise would be in holding on to their own currency. It is more a lesson in the dynamics of a referendum.

It suggests that Tony Blair's fond belief that the terms of the debate would be transformed the moment he himself declared for adopting the euro is a little optimistic. Although Goran Persson is not the energetic persuader that Mr Blair certainly used to be, his government is of a similar social- technocratic mould, and the case that it made for joining the eurozone was along the same lines as Mr Blair's known thinking. What was striking about the Swedish referendum was how little opinion shifted during the campaign, even if it did move in the direction indicated by the government's preference. The idea that a two-to-one anti-European majority could be turned into a pro-European majority of equal size, as it was by the 1975 referendum campaign in this country, was always fanciful.

In 1975, the British voters were asked to endorse the status quo. Today in Sweden, the voters were being asked to give up the status quo for something different.

That is a difficult proposition to sell to country which has a healthy economy, a sea between it and the rest of the continent and pride in its national political institutions. It suggests that political leaders who are committed to their nation playing a central role in Europe need to be more aggressive over a longer period in making the argument about how full membership of the single European market is in our long term interests, economic and otherwise.

Mr Blair is said to believe he has lost a year in Iraq. Unfortunately, he has probably lost much longer than that. A euro referendum in Britain does not look winnable for many years to come.